It’s no secret that nearly all of our large-scale workplace systems are pretty lousy. A friend of mine calls these “sociopathic technocratic” systems, and I call it Bad Tech. Bad Tech is built without regard to the actual needs or jobs of the end users (the data producers), but are required because they benefit someone else entirely (data consumers, usually the bosses and boards who need reports and metrics). In reflecting on two decades building enterprise technology systems I have to admit I have been unwittingly complicit in creating Bad Tech, and I’m tired of it.
What if, starting today, the 4 pillars of system design are that all systems should strive to be:
Transparent: fully informed by, and informing, all stakeholders
Generative: providing direct and immediate value to those who perform the work (line staff), those who benefit from the work (constituents/beneficiaries), and those who benefit from the labor and information (executives, funders). In an ideal world, solutions will allow those who perform the work and those who benefit from the work to use their labor for the creation of new things previously unimagined by the system designers.
Trusted: the origins, transformations, responsibility, and rules impacting data are understood and accessible to all stakeholders. Clarity combined with transparency minimizes the chance that technical complexity can be used to bully or intimidate stakeholders.
Equitably Owned: shared ownership and responsibility for information generation, process management, and interactions within the system mean that the people impacted by system decisions will be heard.